In AD122, a chap from Rome called Hadrian built a wall in the north of England.
In 2019, some 1800 years later, I walked all 84 miles of it, across some of the most stunning scenery in England.
We travelled by train to Newcastle on a bright sunny Thursday in the middle of September. It was like a summers day. Hubby and I walked to the Premier Inn hotel, next door to The Gate in the city centre and some 15 minutes from the railway station. Based in the old Co-operative department store, we nearly missed the front entrance – a set of double doors in a jumble of other frontages. We checked in and headed to our room – it was a rabbit warren of corridors, doors and corners that we wished we had brought a ball of string so we could find our way back out again. Our room was the far end of a long corridor, the type you expect a child on a trike to appear at the far end and Jack Nicholson grinning manically and snarling “Here’s Johnny”.
We staggered into our room with our suitcases and dumped our rucksacks on the bed. The usual bog standard format of a hotel chain room. Looking out of the window, we half expected to see the usual rubbish bins and dumpsters, with staff lurking having a furtive fag, but was staggered to see the outside grilles and metalwork of a multi storey car park less than 30 feet away. Well that was a first. You couldn’t see the sky or anything else except Clive from accounts heading back to his BMW on Level 4.
But on closer inspection of the building, we discovered a staircase dominated by a beautiful tall Art Deco window, the entrance rails held by little metal men bent over carrying the rail on their backs and a memorial for the Co-op employees who lost their lives in the war. Look beyond the corporate styling, a lot of the building and it’s quirkiness had been retained.
We headed out and wandered Newcastle, down to the Quayside, enjoying the early autumn sun. It was very warm. We sat opposite the Baltic art building and people watched, before heading for tea in a Cuban restaurant. Newcastle has many fine and ornate buildings and it’s an attractive city. I was impressed. After another wandering of Newcastle city centre, we realised how tired we were from all our travelling and headed for bed, looking forward to the start of our walk in the morning.
Wallsend to Newburn, Newcastle 12 miles.
We woke stupidly early, full of excitement and after a cuppa in bed, we got organised. We had booked this trip with a company who had arranged all our accommodation and would transfer our luggage to each overnight stop, saving us dragging our whole life across the top of the country. We packed our rucksacks with snacks, waterproofs and other essentials before heading for breakfast. There was a huge variety and we worked our way through the cereals, full English breakfast, toast, coffee and much more. With slightly distended bellies, we retrieved our bags, left the suitcases in reception for collection, hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs, checked out and walked around the corner to the Metro at St James.
The official start of the Hadrian’s Wall walk starts in the eastern suburb of Wallsend and easily reached by Newcastle’s Metro rail system. We jumped onto a very clean train carriage that whipped us out through the inner city. The sun was shining. At Wallsend, we walked down to Segedunum, the remains of a Roman fort, a museum and the beginning of our trek.
We spent a little while here, taking the lift up to the viewing tower to see the Roman fort and far reaching views across the Tyne River and Newcastle. It was quite stunning. We lingered for a while, but we needed to start our walk. We were due to do about 12 miles and so we went back down, walked a few feet across the front of the museum, through a gate and dropped down onto the Hadrian’s Wall Path and took our first steps of our 8 day adventure.
It was an urban walkway. Initially, we passed by factories and industrial units hidden by big scrubby bushes, hiding our view of the Tyne. On the other side, more trees and hedges with glimpses of housing, yards and other urban development. It was pleasant enough, shielded as we were by the foliage, but the noise of the city intruded. The people we met were chatty and friendly, the cyclists pinged their bells warning us of them approaching from behind which was very refreshing. Usually urban cyclists think they own the paths and whip past without warning, startling you, but Tyneside cyclists were very considerate and lots of thank you’s were exchanged. Even an old man driving his car along the part of the path to get to a parking area, stopped, wound down his window and started chatting. “Aye, I’m walking t’dog, then I’m oft for the drink” he declared and we wished him well.
Soon we dropped down to the banks of the Tyne and the view opened up. We followed the river, past a marina with lovely riverside houses and apartments, landscaped with flowers, trees and bushes rather than block paving and concrete. We stopped for coffee and a snack by the Bike Hub, overlooking the river and the edge of the city centre and relaxed. We continued into the centre and back to the Quayside where we lurked the night before. The sun shone and we walked in T-shirt’s and shorts. We strolled through to the other side, past the pigeon lofts, the pleasant business park with red brick offices, pleasantly landscaped. We had lovely views across the river and soon started to spot the edge of the city with gentle green hills and surrounding countryside. Suddenly, the path lurched upwards and away from the river and we found ourselves on the side of a busy dual carriageway, with traffic hurtling up and down. It felt at odds with us dressed in walking boots and rucksacks, tramping along a hard concrete path with lorries bearing down on us. We weren’t on there long, thank goodness and the path took us up into a leafy corridor and the surroundings changed again.
We wandered through grassy fields, tunnels of green where trees touched each other, through city parks, across bridges and busy roads and skirted suburban estates. All the time, the ceaseless roar of traffic, police sirens and other city noises reminded us that we hadn’t escaped the city completely. We dropped back down to the river and followed it. The path was way marked with a white acorn nailed to regularly spaced posts, so it wasn’t difficult to follow – we had no need for maps or a fear of going wrong.
Finally we came to an urban country park, on the edge of a suburban village called Newburn, with a play area for the kids, where locals walked their dogs and where we came across an ice cream van in the car park. It was perfect timing – we decided to award ourselves a treat there and then – and so we sat in the afternoon sun, overlooking the river and eating our icecreams with sprinkles and a chocolate flake stuck in the top, underneath the marching pylons taking electricity to the city, feeling very happy and accomplished.
We walked another 2.5 miles to Heddon-on-the-Wall, up a long but steady hill to the village centre and keen to locate our next accommodation and a long cooling pint of beer. Tired from our walk, we googled Keelman Lodge as we didn’t fancy staggering around trying to locate it. Imagine our despair, when Google pointed it back in Newburn. We typed it in again and we got the same answer. We started to curse in disbelief, wondering how on the earth we had managed to overshoot our hotel like that, when a local sauntered over, asking if he could help. We told him we were looking for The Keelman and he sadly confirmed it was way back in Newburn. Our shoulders sagged despondently, knowing we had an hour walk back before we got our promised pint and dejectedly started to walk back down the hill we had so recently just staggered up, when the local offered us a lift in his car. We could of kissed him. And bless him, we went to his house, collected his car and he drove us back to Newburn, right outside our accommodation. He refused any payment, wished us a lovely trip and he was then gone leaving us to stagger deliriously to the bar.
Actually we kind of limped – our feet were sore and letting us know about it. We were taken to our room, across the courtyard in a block consisting of eight rooms. It was a large room on the second floor, with french doors opening towards the courtyard. Very pleasant. We showered, spread out our things and checked the state of our feet. They were not that bad. We then strolled back to the main building, across the busy courtyard into the conservatory for tea. The pub and outside was busy with families, groups and couples. It was quite nice. It then dawned on us that just over the hedge and beyond the car park, was where we had sat eating our icecreams earlier. What a pair of muppets!
We enjoyed a starter, main and pudding, the last of the sun’s rays shining through the legs of a nearby pylon, it’s tower dominating the tree line. We had inadvertently walked a total of 15 miles and wondered why we were tired and our feet ached.
Tired, full, pleased with ourselves, we wandered back to the little block of rooms. It was a funny little place, an urban pub in a country park busy with suburban people. It ticked a box.
And it turned out not to be a too bad a day after all. After our free lift, I was given a free walking stick by an Australian hiker who had no further use for it and when we highlighted that the bar staff had forgotten to charge us for earlier drinks, it was waived and they were free too. And a further bonus – as we had already walked 2.5 miles of tomorrow’s walk, we would have a shorter day! Perfect.